The Witchfinder’s Apprentice

The Witchfinder's Apprentice by Cora BuhlertMassachusetts in the Year of the Lord 1695: Matthew Goodson, eighteen years of age, is apprenticed to a team of experienced witchfinders, who travel from village to village and town to town to uncover witchcraft, examine the evidence, interrogate suspects and stamp out evil.

When a wave of mysterious illnesses and deaths hits the town of Redemption, the witchfinders are called in and quickly arrest a suspect, a teenaged girl named Grace Pankhurst.

Matthew has long been having his doubts about the witchfinders and the righteousness of their mission. The interrogation of Grace brings those doubts to a flashpoint. But is Grace truly innocent or has Matthew fallen under the spell of a comely witch?

This is a historical horror story of 5500 words or approximately 20 print pages by two-time Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert.

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More information

  • The Witchfinder’s Apprentice is a historical horror short story of 5500 words or approx. 20 print pages. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • This story was written as part of the 2021 July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2021.
  • The inspiration for this story was this post by horror author Grady Hendrix at com, wherein Hendrix say that the depiction of criminal profilers in popular culture is closer to 17th century Puritan witchfinders than to actual profilers. So I thought, “Why not write a story that’s Criminal Minds, but with Puritan witch hunters?”
  • As a result, the witchfinder team is loosely based on the male members of the Criminal Minds team. Matthew Goodson is based of Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and sticks closest to the character in the TV show. Master Gideon Jacobs is based on Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin) with a dash of Inigo Montaya from The Princess Bride (also played by Patinkin), Master Caine Hopkins is based on Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) and Fear-God Moody is based on Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), though in the case of the last three nothing except the physical description remained of the Criminal Minds characters, largely because the Criminal Minds characters are heroic figures, while the witchfinders are very much not.
  • Criminal Minds was, at its heart, a mystery show and so I gave my team of witchfinders a mystery to solve. However, unlike the Criminal Minds team, who always solve the case using their superior profiling skills, my witchfinder team inevitably only sees a single solution to every mystery, namely witchcraft. However, “witches did it” is not a satisfying solution for the reader, so I had to come up with an actual solution to the mysterious going-ons in Redemption.
  • This solution, ergot poisoning, actually does have a connection to witch hunts. The causes of ergot poisoning were poorly understood for centuries and so the symptoms were often blamed on witchcraft. There even is a theory that the symptoms experienced by several teenaged girls in Salem, Massachusetts, that eventually led to the Salem witch trials, were caused by ergot poisoning.
  • Meanwhile, the illness that killed the trader and his lover is implied to be diphtheria, which could neither be diagnosed nor effectively treated at the time.
  • I still have issues writing straight horror, cause whenever I try to write it, what comes out is either parody or stories where the protagonists try to figure out what’s really going on and how to deal with them without violence. The Witchfinder’s Apprentice falls into the latter category.
  • The cover is stock art by Fotelia.